Guest Artist (Timothy Busfield, 2018): USA

Reviewed by Shayne Casso-Cloonan at the 2019 Santa Barbara International Film Festival.


Guest Artist, a film with much to say, but a limited amount to give, was presented at the 2019 Santa Barbara International Film Festival, taking the audience through a whirl-wind of emotions, both calm and hysterical. Opening with one of the many renditions of “The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to you)” and the view of a large tree covered in white Christmas lights, I felt an immediate sense of comfort, but then the film slowly dragged the audience through a montage of brightly lit New York City theater entrances and bar fronts, making me feel rather overwhelmed.


Joseph Harris, played by Jeff Daniels (Dumb and Dumber, The Martian), and one of his science fiction literary agents, Helen, played by Erika Slezak (One Life to Live), sit across from each other in a dark cafe, as she goes over what he is to do over the next month or so. She lectures him on his recent life choices, obviously out of care for the man, and points out that his current path will lead him to one thing, and one thing only: expiration.


I am going to cry a lot, for what you were – what you could have been.


This film follows the constantly drunk and famed playwright Joseph Harris through his attempt to regain self-recognition and closure, and during this attempt, finding himself in a small town called Lima, where he is meant to help produce a play for a small theater company. Very late to pick up Harris from the train station, the excited, young, aspiring playwright Kenneth Waters, portrayed by newcomer Thomas Macias, is met with judgement and conflict in the presence of his lifelong hero.

Dealing with such issues as traumatic stress, alcoholism and manipulation, this story highlights the process of self-acceptance and preservation. Although the overall message of the film was clear, the film was composed in such a way that the repeated sequences of mature communication that would then give way to childish screaming gave me a sort of emotional whiplash, and threw my sense of relaxation out of the theaters designated exit doors. I would say sorry regarding my opinion on this film, but will instead do what I was told.



Don’t apologize… An artist never apologizes.


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